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Film at Home

Columbia's Indie Grits festival to salvage film programming with free live-streams

The Show Goes On

NickTheaterAudience.jpg

An audience at the Nickelodeon Theater during the 2018 Indie Grits Festival.

Seth Gadsden is having much the same experience as many Columbians during the days of COVID-19.

“Sitting on my bed, trying to get some work done,” he says on Friday morning when Free Times asks what he’s up to. One of his twin boys interrupts a few minutes later, receiving a kind but stern “I’m on the phone” in response.

“Weird times,” continues the director of Indie Grits Labs, which was forced, like so many others, to cancel its spring festival, the annual celebration of film and a wide array of other Southern art that was slated to go from March 26 to 29. Now, instead of running around town trying to keep a bustling schedule of events on track, he’s stuck at home.

“I did a virtual [accommodations tax] pitch [for Richland County] in my bed,” Gadsden laughs. “That’s a first.”

But he’s working to get something else done, too: bringing Indie Grits’ 2020 competition films to other homebound people in the Midlands and elsewhere. And starting March 28, the festival has done just that, offering free live-streams of 11 features and shorts blocks that continue through April 4. The schedule was announced just two days before the first session was set to hit computers, and Gadsden says that setting it up has been his team’s primary focus since canceling the screenings.

“Every year when we do a festival, we do a recovery period from just having been absolutely insane for three months,” the Indie Grits director says. “So this year was a little weird, because ... instead of having a successful festival and then trying to recover from it, we canceled the festival and then had to recover from it.”

Salvaging at least some part of Indie Grits’ March programming has been a priority since the organization first started reacting to COVID-19. The festival initially canceled everything except the screenings at the Nickelodeon Theatre, which were set to proceed at 50 percent capacity for three days until the theater temporarily ceased operation.

“It’s such a community event that it just was really hard to have to not be able to realize it,” Anita Floyd, executive director of the Columbia Film Society, which oversees the Nick and Indie Grits, told Free Times a few days after the cancellation. “But even with that we’re trying to think how in the short and long term we can at least offer some of the things that we had planned for the festival. So while the whole four-day thing is canceled, we’re still considering pieces of it to do later in the year.”

And now a combination of technology and kindness is allowing the festival to showcase its films sooner rather than later. With internet video platform Vimeo offering its live-streaming service free to arts organizations like Indie Grits through June 1, showing the competition films online became obvious.

“The technology’s there,” Gadsden says. “It’s just, ‘Do you wanna turn your house into a live-stream center for nine days?’”

He laughs because that’s exactly what he’s doing.

“Literally, it’s going to all be live-streamed out of my house, and then [Indie Grits Labs Programming Manager Steffi Brink is] going to run all the talkbacks at her house. And we’re going to get it done. It’s going to be cool.”

It’s the first time the organization has done something like this, and Gadsden knows there will be issues to overcome. He brings up the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s own virtual talkbacks with filmmakers and how they were briefly overrun by users cursing at moderators and sending pornographic spam. But he’s mostly excited about the possibilities — including using live-streaming capabilities to continue Indie Grits Labs’ regular media education efforts while everyone’s on lockdown.

As for the rest of 2020’s festival programming, the director says there’s still hope to salvage some of it. He’d like to gather the winning films and their creators for an event later in the year, and he mentions the annual Puppet Slam and Indie Bits arcade as possibilities in the next few months.

“We’re going to try and pull this thing apart and do different things,” Gadsden explains. “It really, really just depends on the whole [COVID-19] situation. If it goes deep into the summer, it’s going to be hard, because we open for submissions Sept. 1. At some point, you’ve got to start doing the next one and it all goes away.”{hr /}{span class=”print_trim”}What: Indie Grits Livestream Pop-Up

Where: indiegrits.org/festival/livestream

When: March 28-April 4

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